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What tastes sweeter than sugar? Natural, non-nutritive sweeteners like stevia and monk fruit do. While eliminating all things sweet from your diet is the best option for your health, there are occasions where a little sweetness makes a food or beverage more enjoyable.
Yes, we’ve purged almost all sugar from our diets but add a little sweetener in coffee, but we’re still trying to learn to love unsweetened coffee. How about you, can you drink it straight? More power to you.
What do we use to sweeten coffee? We had used stevia almost exclusively but branched out into monk fruit recently. We believe these two sweeteners are the best alternatives when you need to sweeten something. The reason?
Monk Fruit vs Stevia:
- Both are natural and derived from plants.
- Both have zero calories
- Neither has a significant impact on blood sugar
- Both are intense sweeteners, meaning you don’t need a lot
So, the purpose of this article is to tell you more about each, how they differ, and what the pros and cons of each are. Here’s what you need to know.
Where Do Stevia and Monk Fruit Come From?
Both Stevia and monk fruit come from plants. Stevia comes from a herb in the chrysanthemum family called stevia rebaudiana while monk fruit is, as the name implies from a fruit. Monk fruit, also known as lo huan go, grows in small orchards in Southeast Asia. Monk fruit is even used medicinally in Asian countries. Supposedly, it improves digestion.
How are they made? Once the appropriate parts of the plant are collected, various methods are used to extract the “sweet” components. For stevia the sweet components are called glycosides, compounds with just the right structure to tickle your sweet taste receptors.
While stevia sweeteners are widely available, monk fruit is only now gaining mainstream distribution. That’s because there are fewer orchards that grow monk fruit as compared to stevia plants and fewer facilities for extraction. As a result, monk fruit sweeteners are more expensive.
One thing we like about monk fruit is the plants that produce the fruit are breed via traditional breeding techniques – no genetic modification. Stevia sweeteners are also not genetically modified, although some, like Truvia, contain additives, including erythritol and natural flavors. For the record, erythritol appears to be safe.
Recently, some stevia makers are experimenting with fermentation to create a better-tasting sweetener. One problem with some stevia products is they leave a bitter aftertaste in your mouth. Fermentation may eliminate some of these bitter tones. Although fermentation alters some of the components, based on what we now know, it shouldn’t pose a health risk.
Stevia vs. Monk Fruit: Which is Sweeter?
With regards to sweetness, stevia and monk fruit are pretty much “even Steven.” It’s been awhile since you heard that phrase, right? Both are around 200 to 250 times sweeter than sugar. Because of the bitter aftertaste that some stevia formulations leave behind, monk fruit has a better taste, although it depends to some degree on what you’re using them to sweeten.
According to an article in Nutritional Outlook magazine, monk fruit works better for sweetening citrus beverages while stevia excels for sweetening items that have vanilla flavored components. So, if you’re drinking a cup of vanilla-flavored coffee, stevia is a good sweetener choice, but if you’re making lemonade, a little monk fruit does the job.
All in all, if you’ve ever sweetened something with stevia and thought it had a strangely bitter aftertaste, you’re a good candidate for monk fruit. Some people are better at tasting those bitter undertones than others.
So, stevia works for some but not for everyone. You won’t have to deal with bitterness with monk fruit. In fact, if you use a lot of it, it imparts a fruity flavor to foods and beverages.
We’re sure you have questions about safety – and you should. One of the many concerns about artificial sweeteners is that they might alter how insulin behaves by “tricking” your body into thinking it’s getting something sweet. Based on the limited studies that are out there, stevia doesn’t seem to do this.
In fact, stevia improves blood glucose control. Health practitioners in Brazil actually use it as a treatment for type 2 diabetes.
In animal studies, stevia helps insulin work better and protects rats against kidney and liver damage. Larger doses of stevia rebaudiana also lower blood pressure, although you need relatively large amounts.
At one point there were concerns that Stevia might impact fertility based on animal studies but more recent studies don’t support this idea.
Monk Fruit Safety
The active ingredients in monk fruit are called mogrosides On the downside, mogrosides have yet to be extensively studied in animals or humans. However, in the studies that have been carried out monk fruit mogrosides appear to have beneficial properties.
In animal studies, they lower blood sugar, have a favorable impact on blood lipids, and have antioxidant activity. Based on what we know, there’s no evidence they cause cancer or other health problems.
One problem with many monk fruit sweeteners is they’re more than just monk fruit mogrosides. Instead, manufacturers add “fillers,” including erythritol (a sugar alcohol that’s likely safe), molasses, or even dextrose, which is essentially sugar. Those are the exact ingredients in one monk fruit preparation called Nectresse.
Another one called Monk Fruit in the Raw contains monk fruit mogrosides and dextrose. We mentioned that monk fruit preparations aren’t GMO, but the dextrose in Monk Fruit in the Raw comes from corn – a crop that is often genetically modified. The monk fruit itself is not genetically modified but the corn MAY be.
Fortunately, there is a non-GMO monk fruit sweetener out there called Lakanto. Like many monk fruit sweeteners, it contains erythritol. Why is erythritol so common in monk fruit sweeteners? It seems that the mogrosides in monk fruit are so powerful that they need an additive to tone them down. You also see erythritol in some stevia preparations as well.
The Bottom Line
We believe monk fruit and stevia are two of the safer sweeteners out there. Ideally, we’d like for you to avoid ALL sweeteners but if that’s not doable, these are the sweeteners we recommend. We can’t recommend artificial sweeteners, like Splenda, Aspartame etc., because studies show these sweeteners appear to destroy healthy gut bacteria.
Gut bacteria destruction is a bad thing. Your gut bacteria are EVERYTHING when it comes to your health. For example, they play an important role in how your immune system and digestive tract function. Our advice: Stay away from sweeteners that mess with your gut bacteria. As of now, there’s no evidence that stevia or monk fruit do this.
We also can’t recommend the natural sweeteners many people use in place of sugar, including honey, rice syrup, coconut sugar, maple syrup, and agave syrup. These sweeteners cause a somewhat similar rise in blood sugar as sugar and they’re not free of calories. I guess if you HAD to choose between sugar and one of these, one of these would arguably be better, but you have other choices.
What We Do
As we talked about in the past, we live a low-sugar lifestyle and avoid sugar as well as most sweeteners. We do use sweetener in coffee and what we use is a combination of stevia and monk fruit. We mix the two together and store it in a container. You can also buy premixed stevia/monk fruit combinations.
You might wonder whether we’re concerned about the additives, like erythritol, in some of these products. Erythritol exists naturally in some fruits as well as fermented foods like cheese and wine. So, we believe it, too, is safe.
So, now you have the scoop on stevia and monk fruit. There are pros and cons to each. Better taste is a big pro for monk fruit but it’s also more expensive. You might discover, like us, that you can mix the two and get a good taste without spending as much.
Do you use a natural sweetener? If so, which one?
J Diabetes Complications. 2013 Mar-Apr;27(2):103-13.
Clin Ther. 2003 Nov;25(11):2797-808.
Phytochemistry. 2003 Nov;64(5):913-21.
Center for Science in the Public Interest. “It’s Sweet… But is it Safe?”
Nutritional Outlook. “What Makes a Natural Sweetener Safe?”
Non-GMO Project. “LAKANTO® Monk Fruit Sweetener Now Non-GMO Project Verified”